April 7th, 2008
06:25 PM ET

Nic Robertson: Firefight in Sadr City

Nic Robertson

CNN's Nic Robertson sees the fighting in Sadr City and discovers the city isn't under government control

What was weird about going in to battle in Sadr city was leaving with the fighting still raging. The best way I can describe it is like going home from a football game before the final whistle.

We were sprinting away from the fight, across open alley ways where snipers lay in wait to take you down if you hesitate. Automatic gunfire was bursting through the air and I wanted to go back. I wanted to know who was going to win.

Three hours earlier, ducking for cover as I ran towards the firefight with Bushmaster company commander Captain Logan Veath, the fight seemed straightforward. Mehdi militia members, loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, were holding out around the ramshackle market from where they’d been firing Iranian-made rockets at the U.S. embassy, and the American and Iraqi government troops I was with were trying to capture or kill them.

Veath is 30, from Nebraska, a horse lover, divorced, with six tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt already. His smile is wide; among his men he is a motivator. Talking with me I saw his softer side. Just before he deployed here last November his father passed away; it was three days after the family had gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a great day, he told me, but I could sense his sadness. But now, in pitched battle here, fighting side by side with his soldiers, he doesn’t have much time to reflect. It struck me here’s a guy who could be down at heart but he’s not.

With bullets whizzing past, I watched as he cajoled, encouraged, motivated reluctant Iraqi Army soldiers and officers to take on the militia. The Iraqi army has been given training, good weapons, flack jackets, helmets and better armored trucks than the US troops had when they first arrived a five years ago. Now they must take the next step and take the lead in battles. I realized Captain Veath was trying to make them believe in themselves. With a couple of well-earned successes they shouldn't be so afraid to take on the militias alone.

I’ve watched over the past years as the Iraqi army has gone from zero to, in some cases, maybe one step from hero. Veath believes in them, believes they are brave. When he was frustrated, he kept his focus: Let the battle play out, with the Iraqis taking the fight to the militia, taking causalities and backing off. I have no doubt if Veath had been in the lead, the firefight would have been over sooner. He knows it, too, but that’s not his job here.

Back in the comfort of CNN’s Baghdad office, I know Veath is likely sleeping on the floor on some rundown school, smashed up store or over-crowded base. The reports we’ve been getting today tell me the battle is still going on. I realize now what Veath knew as we dodged bullets leaving the firefight: there is no point hanging around to see who’s won. There may be no final whistle, no clear game over. The fighting may subside, the Iraqi army will improve but the 17-square-mile grid of squalid Sadr city housing is a long long way from being rid of illegally armed militia.

-Nic Robertson, Senior International Correspondent

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Filed under: Iraq • Nic Robertson
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Jennifer Busse

    This article wasn't political in nature, but was written about a soldier who is laying his life on the line to fight for our country. Moreover, Cpt. Logan Veath is one of the best men we have standing up in this fight. He has been numerous times and understands, as most who have been deployed, that we have a purpose to being there and he takes great pride is serving his country and the men under his command. THE WAR IS AT A POINT NOW WHERE IT SHOULD BE ABOUT TROOP MORALL AND NOT ABOUT ALL THE NAYSAYERS. THIS MAN DESERVES OUR RESPECT AND OUR GRATITUDE FOR WHAT HE IS DOING OVER THERE. HE is trying to bring peace to their land. Photos of him meeting with town leaders and helping them show that. Making statements to Iraqis about how they may help themselves and taking the time from his life to devote to showing the way for our military. For boosting his troops in a time of such disrespect to American forces and for always putting his duty first. He is one of many, and I am sure there are many others like him, including my husband. But, having personally had a chance to know Cpt. Veath and to know what is going on over there, this attack of politics is nonsense. You want a say about what's going on GO VOTE IN NOVEMBER..REMEMBER YOU MUST REGISTER NOW...STILL PLENTY OF TIME, But SUPPORT THESE MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE FIGHTING FOR OUR FREEDOMS.

    April 9, 2008 at 1:17 am |
  2. Mike in NYC

    I've read enough of Robertson's postings to recognize him for the cheerleader that he is.

    The not-so implicit assumption is that Sadr is a "bad guy." The Iraqi army is essentially made up of members of the other two Shi'ite blocs, both of which are as close, if not closer, to Iran than Sadr's people. This is what enabled the Iranians to successfully broker an end (albeit probably temporary) to the Basra fighting.

    "Illegally armed militia"? Nic's apparently got the heart of a gun-grabber. Oddly enough, most of the second amendment types here in the US probably think it's great that "our" guys are trying to force their fellow Iraqis to give up their guns.

    People in family/clan-based societies like Iraq have innate suspicions of central governments, and little or no loyalty to them. (That is, unless their group happens to control said government.) I can't say I blame them, especially when the government in question is kept in power by an occupying army.

    April 8, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  3. Mrs. R.

    Excellent writing. Vivid vignette of the reality over there. Please keep reporting w/this clarity and truth.

    April 8, 2008 at 4:58 pm |
  4. Ken

    Regardless of the reason why we are in Iraq, we are there. The reasons for going to war are now moot. Now the simple reason for being there is to make it a better place it is easy to look back as a Monday morning quarter back and say what went wrong. The hard thing to do is look forward and say this will not be easy and it will take as long as it takes. What is needed is for a politician to stand up and say the truth and not placate the masses. Empty promises about withdrawal in a year are unrealistic and counterproductive. This is a hard fight against fanatics from all over the world who seek death and destruction be it American troops or Iraqi civilians. Because, either way the Western Media will amplify there political and social agenda to a world public who want to see an American failure. The Iraqi military is in its infant stages and military operations in urban terrain are difficult to say the least. They are brave men fighting for a peaceful homeland and deserve our respect and support.

    April 8, 2008 at 9:12 am |
  5. Ernest Covell Ssgt

    I can not belive the gaul of these Iraqis' !! Is this the reason we have lost over 4000 men and women so that they can sit down to eat lunch and cower during a fire fight?? I am over in Baghdad servining my country and "waiting" for the Iraqis' to man up and take on there own fight. The way it looked from your story I forsee a long stay here, fighting someone elses fight.

    April 8, 2008 at 6:47 am |
  6. Wayne E. Gates

    The Iraqi 'lunch' must be the major issue in response to General P.'s
    'dog & pony' show today. Please see it has 'legs' !!!

    April 8, 2008 at 5:18 am |
  7. Wayne E. Gates

    Please, Please make a BIG issue of the Iraqi 'lunch' ... our 4000+
    deserve better!!! This story must have 'legs' ... to the top!!!

    April 8, 2008 at 5:09 am |
  8. Peter L. Winkler

    "I’ve watched over the past years as the Iraqi army has gone from zero to, in some cases, maybe one step from hero."

    How can you write this after having witnessed an American commander wheedling the Iraqis to fight, then they want a lunch break! I watched your story on TV and am placing a link to it on my blog. The Iraqi army displays no heroism in your video. 1,000 of them, including two Iraqi commanders, deserted the fighting in Basra.

    April 8, 2008 at 3:38 am |
  9. Madeline

    The Iraqi's aren't interested in fighting for their themselves, especially when their getting paid to do it. They know that America isn't their because of their tribal war but because of what hands may get hold of their oil. The Iraqi's are going to collect American money and pretend their scared to fight as long as they can. Common sense. Inorder to win this war America would have to declare war with Iran and John Mccain know that, thats why he's singing Bom Bom Bom Bom Iran. If John Mccain is elected president he will go to war with Iran inorder to bring piece to Iraq.

    April 8, 2008 at 2:46 am |

    John Mccain thinks this serge is a sucess when the these Iraqi's can stand down during their own fight and while Americans tax dollars are paying for it. John Mccain is so into Iraq and believes well just be there until we finish. The question is how long? If John Mccain is so experienced, why cant he tell us how long the troops need to stay in Iraq and why didn't he sign the GI Bill? Why doesn't John Mccain have solutions for the economic crisis In America? Why is the Iraqi troops loosing to the Iran trained shia troops? Why does John Mccain believe that the surge is the only way to victory? As you can see there are allot of unanswered questions that John Mccain has to answer. The most important one is how long John Mccain thinks American tax payers are going to continue to foot the payroll of the Iraqi troops. Why do American tax payers have to pay for the Iraqi's to fight for there government? What are the American people getting out of paying the Iraqi troops to fight for their government besides loosing our homes and jobs, and the entire American Dream.

    April 7, 2008 at 9:02 pm |